Case study: Working with a property manager while investing from overseas (sample emails included)

Background

At the end of 2014, after spending several months identifying a market (click here for an article on how that was done - it's +3,000 words) and finding overseas partners in Jacksonville, Florida, Ben (my real estate investing partner) and I made our first real estate investment.

We purchased a single family house and have two partners in Jacksonville (a married couple).

The property may be worth more than 80% of we paid for it, including our capital investments to improve the property. (Check out the link above to see the systematic process we went through to find the right area to invest in.)

Since our partners are living in Jacksonville, they manage the property day-to-day. Although we discuss expenses, strategies and big picture ideas as a group, Ben and I have not had much contact with our property managers or contractors.

Last week, we got a bit of good news from our partners. They child they were expecting had finally arrived. A happy healthy newborn boy.

Of course, we were extremely happy for them.

But as a group, we knew that a baby would mean they'd need more help on the operations side of our investment. As father of two kids myself, I could definitely relate to that.

As life is prone to do, the final inspection, repairs, and the start of marketing our property happened to occur right as the baby was born ^^

So with 'several balls' in the air, our partners asked for some help managing the process.

Ben and I were glad to step in to assist. Here's a case study of what we did.

Informing all interested parties

The first thing our partners did was inform our property manager (PM) that Ben and I would be stepping in to do help our more.

When it comes to managing your property from abroad:

If you want to successfully invest in overseas real estate, you must communicate well with your property manager.

If you want to successfully invest in overseas real estate, you must communicate well with your property manager.

One partner sent out the following email:

email your property manager
email your property manager

Key takeaway: Although it seems obvious, make sure to keep everyone in the loop on any big changes. Over-communication is better than not enough. Otherwise assumptions can lead someone astray. Keep all relevant parties in the loop.

Put people at ease

Change always makes people nervous. Therefore, I try to put people at ease. I knew based on our partners feedback that our property manager was competent and that there might be a slight burden on her to suddenly deal with 'new voices' asking her to do things. So I first introduced myself.

Introducing yourself to your property manager
Introducing yourself to your property manager

and explained how I saw my role...

Help put people at ease by explaining your role.

Help put people at ease by explaining your role.

As you can see, it's short (to respect her time), includes the "yeah!!" to personalize the communication, and explains how I see my role. Again - I want to avoid mistaken assumptions by either party.

I use the word 'help' because I don't want the PM to feel threatened or defensive. Also, the PM should have a much better sense of what's happening than I do, so I want to acknowledge that. In general, I want the people I work with to feel empowered when dealing with me.

Key takeaway: Be professional, put people at ease, explain your role, and present yourself as working together. You can always be tougher later, as needed.

Clarity

As someone new to the project, the first thing that is needed is to gain clarity on the following:

  1. What's been done
  2. What needs to get done
  3. Why does it need to get done(with most of these tasks, I left this out because the reasons were clear and I didn't want the communications to get too long.)
  4. When does it need to get done by
  5. Who's going to do it

Our PM had sent the following email:

Email from PM
Email from PM

We've all been trapped in "email hell" before, right? Where work we're trying to accomplish gets lost somewhere in your Gmail thread? I wanted to avoid that, so the first thing I wanted to do was organize the communication so that everyone had clarity on the four points listed above.

Clarifying email
Clarifying email

Key Takeaway: If you cannot easily identify the five points above in an email communication, restructure the email in a way that makes it easier for people to stay focused.

Here's another example of seeking clarity.

I received this email:

Clarify what your property manager tells you
Clarify what your property manager tells you

And since I wasn't up to speed on the repairs needed, I organized the information this way:

What needs to get done email
What needs to get done email

Weekly Goals

One of the biggest problems you can face in managing any project is not setting due dates. Not only do due dates help put 'pressure' on everyone to get things done, they help clarify expectations. If you set a due date of one day to get something done and the other person thinks it will take two days, then the process of talking it through will help you understand each other's point of view better. I also added in a Definition of Success (or Definition of Done in "Scrum" terms)

When working with a property manager, define success
When working with a property manager, define success

Key Takeaway: Due dates and expectations help keep people on track and help establish reasonable expectations for both parties.

The Weekly Report

At the end of each week, it's important to review what happened. Borrowing from Scrum Project Management philosophy, I like to especially focus on 'bottlenecks' - what slowed us down and how can we remove those potential bottlenecks in the future. By doing this type of 'end of week analysis', you can remove the obstacles one-by-one and improve the speed at which the group works. (In Scrum terms, this is called the "Sprint Retrospective.")

Review your progress weekly with your team
Review your progress weekly with your team

Key Takeaway: Review your process each week and focus on how what might have slowed things down and how to remove those obstacles.

Daily check-in

Each day during the week, there was at least one update from someone. After each update, I added the update to the growing list that I was tracking. This is pretty essential when working with someone overseas.

If there's no daily check-in, you'll start to see "delays" adding up quickly and in real estate, delays = lost revenue. We all live busy lives and it's easy to get distracted. But a daily check-in keeps everyone focused and on task. The check-in shouldn't be a long-winded report but mostly about changes in the state of the project. (In Scrum terms, the "Daily Check-in")

Daily update
Daily update

Key Takeaways:Daily check-ins or regularly scheduled updates (ie. I'll get back to you in 48 hours) are needed to keep a project moving along.

How Do You Do It All?

You might be thinking - that's a lot of work! But it's not as much time as you may think, especially if you use some of the tools that I list below. And once you have a consistent format to use, most of your work will just be copying and pasting in updates and adding in questions and due dates.

Also turning over and getting repairs done on your property are probably the busiest times you'll face when managing a property from abroad.

So it's not like you'll have to do this everyday.

However, the basic management project principles can be applied to any issue that might surface - having to go through an eviction, selling your property, etc.

In my 17 years of doing business here in Korea, one thing I've learned about working with others is this - the more organized you are and the more organized the project is (having clearly defined goals and responsibilities), the more professionally others will treat your project and you'll usually get better results.

Also, this process makes the work transparent, meaning more accountability. Since you're documenting and clarifying everything, it's hard for others to hide behind excuses like "I didn't understand.." or "I was waiting on you to do something first.."

But more than that, I believe people want to do work that is meaningful. By putting time and care into your work, you make it more meaningful for others who are involved in the project.

People want work that is meaningful to them
People want work that is meaningful to them

Tools I use to Streamline the Process

Copy and Paste Document

I use a lot of online tools. And depending on how tech savvy your PM is, you might be able to use project management software such as Slack or Asana. However, to keep things simple, you can simply have a text document on your Desktop and copy and paste your original email onto it.

Then as you get updates from others, you can add to that text document and copy and paste the updated document into your email and Send.

For the OCD among us, it might seem terribly clunky. But sometimes simplicity trumps an elegantly designed solution.

Email Reminder

I use Gmail on my Chrome browser. I downloaded the extension Streak.

Streak
Streak

I don't use the other features but one function that I absolutely need is its ability to Snooze Emails.

snooze email
snooze email

That way, after I send out an update, I'll set a Snooze until the next morning. Then it'll pop up in my email box again and I'll know it's time for me to request an update or send out another.

Let me know what you think.

Did I handle that situation well? What are you comments and feedback? Comment below.

Reminder - The November Seoul REI Meetup will be:

Saturday, November 14, 1-3pm in Gangnam

To RSVP: CLICK HERE

For more information on Scrum Methodology, I highly recommend this book. It's been a real game changer for me in terms of productivity. Although Scrum was developed for software development, I use it in all aspects of my life now:

Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time

This is an affiliate link, by the way. I only recommend products, however, that I myself have purchased and have found to be useful. If you'd like to learn more about Scrum before making a purchase, here is an 8 minute video overview:

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XU0llRltyFM[/embed]